Boogie Board Sync review

I was looking for a tool to replace all the paper clutter on my desk.

I’ve been looking high and low, and as of December 2018, to my knowledge these are the options if you want to hand-write your notes to an electronic device:

  • a iPad Pro or a Surface tablet, with an Apple Pen or the Surface Pen. They are Not Cheap (around ~1000€). I’ve only tried the Surface, and the input lag is noticeable.
  • a Samsung Android tablet with the S Pen, which, again, is Not Cheap (~700€).
  • another cheaper Android tablet with a regular capacitive pen, but the input lag is huge, and precision is poor.
  • a eInk-based tablet such as the Remarkable, which seems to have very low lag (at least in the ads), but is Not Cheap (~500-600€).
  • a Moleskine Smart Writing System, which uses actual pen and paper, except the paper is proprietary and while Somewhat Cheap (about 1€ for an A4) it is the only system that’ll require money for each page you use (wisely or less wisely).
  • tons of app-based, camera-based systems, some of which include microwave-erasable notebooks, such as the Rocket Book. These are cheaper (20-50€) but I didn’t like the idea of having to take a picture of the notebook, feeling in the end I’d just use it as, you know, a regular notebook.
  • tons of eWriter systems, which are Very Cheap (as low as 5€), with imperceptible input lag, but no “smart” features.

That’s where the Boogie Board Sync stood up. It is the only eWriter system with bluetooth capability and also has an affordable price tag (~60€). Due to the lack of reviews on the web, I’m writing my own.

The selling feature for me was the integration with Evernote. You can actually sketch something on the board, hit the save button, fire up the app on your mobile phone, let it sync, and have your sketch in Evernote moments after. They’ll all collect in a Evernote notebook of your choice for later reference. Unfortunately, Evernote is not able to recognize the hand-written text inside the sketches, but you can write some keywords (such as a timestamp and title) to make it easier to find it later.

The Boogie Board Sync app could definitely use some improvements. At first I tried to set it up on Windows to have it permanently available, but for some reason I couldn’t get the Evernote syncing to work on my laptop (Disclaimer: I tested this on a single Windows laptop). I tried to contact Boogie Board support but they never replied (boo!). This is really unprofessional on their part and brought me to the brink of returning the product, but in the end I figured out I could just install the app on my phone instead. Also, I once had a problem where the app crashed, and upon restarting, it imported again every single sketch from the board, which had to be cleaned out manually.

The build quality for now it is not showing too many issues. The board surface might look scratched from time to time, but it looks to be caused by the pen leaving some kind of small trail; if you clean up the screen with a cloth or a finger, you’ll have a perfectly smooth surface again.

The screen is still perfectly smooth after months of use.

On the other hand, it has shown to be vulnerable to hits. I’ve hit the screen probably by dropping my keychain on it, and now I have a couple of spots on the screen where it is much more sensible (for example, they light up if I softly push there with my finger).

A few hits to the screen led to some sensitive points. 

The pen stroke is somewhat thicker similar to the one of a soft felt tip pen, so you’ll have to adapt to writing with larger letters. Also, the screen sensitivity seems to depend on the heat (such as heat from sunlight) and it will grow bigger if the device gets hotter. Overall the vector version of your sketches is good enough to read later, but it is also not error-proof, as some strokes (sometimes whole letters) will be missing from the end result.

How a note looks on the screen (left), and exported as PDF (right). You can notice some letters are completely missing.

A note on the software: when you delete a sketch, it is actually still accessible by using a USB cable and mounting the board as a USB thumb drive. The sketches are actually stored as vector PDFs on the board. The internal memory is probably enough for ~40k sketches.

Overall I’m rather happy with my Boogie Board Sync. I’ve averaged one note per day since when I had it 3 months ago and now I couldn’t go back. It definitely could use some improvements, but the concept is very interesting and as such I hope some competitors make their move with some new models.

Tablets comparison

As I digged through the available 8-10″ tablets starting from 200 and above, I compiled this list of the main features I was interested in. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of models.

For some reason, very few of them, if any, can do phone calls (which is bad, because I really hoped to use it as a backup in case my phone goes haywire).
LTE or 4G option costs about 100€.
Prices are in euros.
Also, see my other post about why a tablet isn’t a computer.

Model Price Screen size Screen type Resolution RAM Notes
Amazon Fire HD 8 110 8 IPS 1280 x 800 1,5
Apple iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular 519 9.7 Retina 1536 x 2048 2
Not available on Amazon
Apple iPad Mini 4 409 7.9 Retina 2048 x 1536 2 Not available on Amazon
Asus Z300M-6B050A ZenPad 168 10 IPS 1280 x 800 2
Asus Zenpad 3S 317 9.7 IPS 1536 x 2048 4
Asus ZenPad 3S 10 LTE 419 9.7 IPS 2048 x 1536 4 No phone
Asus ZenPad 3S Z500M-1J006A 425 9.7 IPS 2048 x 1536 4 No phone
Asus Zenpad S 8.0 Z580C 289 8 IPS 2048 x 1536 2 No phone
Huawei MediaPad M3 324 8.4 IPS 2,560×1,600 4 Frontal speakers
Lenovo TAB 2 A10-70L 259 10.1 IPS 1900 x 1200 2
Lenovo TB2-X30L 175 10.1 IPS 1280 x 800 2 No phone
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Plus ZA1R0020DE 407 10.1 IPS 2560 x 1600 3
Lenovo ZA090058SE Yoga Tab 3 224 8 1280 x 800 2
Nexus 7 165 7 1920 x 1200 2 No phone
Nvidia SHIELD 16GB Black 333 8 1920 x 1200 2
NVIDIA Shield K1 200 8 1920 x 1200 2
Discontinued – no phone
Samsung Galaxy S3 632 9.7 Super AMOLED 2048 x 1536 4
Samsung Galaxy Tab A T585N 267 10.1 TFT 1920 x 1200 2
Samsung Galaxy Tab A6 194 10.1 IPS 1920 x 1200 2 No phone
Samsung Galaxy Tab E SM-T561N 202 9.7 TFT 1280 x 800 1,5 No phone
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 T713N 329 8 Super AMOLED 2048 x 1536 3
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7″ SM-T810NZWEDBT 343 9.7 Super AMOLED 2048 x 1536 3 4:3 display
Samsung SM-T585 Galaxy Tab A 254 10.1 TFT 1.920 x 1.200 2
Sony Xperia Z 380 10.1 TFT 1920 x 1200 2 Waterproof
Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet SGP712 407 10.1 IPS 2560 x 1600 3 Waterproof
DELL Venue 8 Pro 205 8 IPS 1280 x 800 1 Windows

 

In 2018, a tablet still isn’t a computer

What is a computer? That’s the title of one of the latests commercials about the iPad Pro.

In a nutshell, the designers show that the tablet has nothing to lose when compared to a computer.

I beg to differ. I was recently searching for a replacement for a laptop, and the tablet was an interesting candidate; but after research and first-hand testing, I’m confident to say a tablet is not a computer. They are two different products for two different use cases. Sure, a 1000€ Microsoft Surface can get close enough to a laptop, and also the iPad has some niceties that make it above average in many areas, but things get worse if we look at the much more widespread Android tablet, which is the worst offender here, even for devices with a 600€ price tag.

There are many things a Android tablet cannot do well or at all.

  • You cannot have two apps running at the same time reliably, as Android likes to kill them randomly. This is especially problematic if you’re using tools such as IRC or SSH which happen to use connection-oriented protocols.
  • Physical keyboards aren’t remappable without rooting. For example the Escape key closes all applications and there is no way to disable it. (90% of keyboard shortcuts do work though.)
  • Support for external peripherals is almost non existing. While all Android devices have a USB port, this can’t be used for USB devices such as USB-to-ethernet adapters or USB-to-HDMI. So, no wired networks and no external monitors are allowed. If you need those, you’ll have to do some research, as support is extremely spotty (Samsung and Apple are among the best here).
  • Drawing is impossible as the latency is huge, especially on bigger screens. The only possibility here is to get a tablet that has support for an active pen (that currently is available only on the top tier ones). Also the pen itself is, again, expensive.
  • Filesystem support is cumbersome. Try to download a file in a new directory and then move it somewhere else. Or try to forward an email with an attachment on the iPhone.
  • Gaming on a tablet is a sub-par experience, as mobile games are not at the same level as mediocre PC indie games.

On the other hand, I don’t mean tablets are useless; they are fit for different purposes. Even many laptops have disadvantages with respect to a tablet:

  • Few laptops support SIM cards.
  • Laptop cameras aren’t as advanced as mobile ones, and a laptop anyway can’t easily take a picture of what it’s behind it.
  • Few laptops are touch-enabled.
  • “Flip” or “Transformer” designs are rare. The keyboard is a burden if you just want to watch YouTube. This basically makes a laptop much less portable.
  • Laptops just aren’t socially fit sometimes, you’ll look weird if you bring one at the beach.
  • Many mobile apps are designed around portability: maps, touristic informations, public transports, and so on. Unfortunately many of them aren’t available for all platforms; if you’re used to a certain app on your phone, you might need something different on your laptop.
  • Mobile apps often offer background services which are less resource-intensive than keeping tens of Chrome tabs open.

So, there are pro and cons on both sides, as they’re basically two different products with a slight overlap in functionality. Tablets still excel at entertainment, but laptops are still the most versatile and productive.
You should understand your use case before deciding for the one or the other. I hope this list helps!